The discussion of the issues of dialectical materialism is very frustrating: its enthusiastic proponents who think they are producing the trump card to bourgeois ideology are in reality throwing discredit on the idea of a communism that can mediate the transition from capitalism. Nothing in the legacy of the French Revolution seeking its resolution in socialism/communism demanded that the ideology of revolution should be hijacked by a second-rate parody of Hegel and his always dubious ‘dialectic’, a term whose history and significance has been distorted. The ‘dialectic’ itself is not the miracle sought to sneak mysticism into reductionist historical materialism.
The whole discussion is played out and has created a literature that at its climax produced a few stellar books in isolation but is now a faded memory: as we examine the mesmerizing lore of dialectics we see the downfall of the hopes the radical left could produce some kind of magical substitute for religion, mysticism, and, before we forget, dismal Iron Cage scientism. I think that Hegel’s indications misled people from the start and in any case the whole world of Hegel was in need of a certain distancing by those in his wake, a point Marx most vigorously proclaimed, only to let the whole confusion reenter as a material dialectic. We can reserve final judgment here: after all Zizek is an enthusiast of the brand who represents the classic legacy here attempting to give it renewed life. But I think that the demands on the communism in the coming crisis of economic civilization require more than the dialectic, and certainly something better than dialectical materialism. Here Engels suffered from his lack of opportunity to study the Hegelian school and produced an experimental subject that has since had its critics and fans. The problem in the end is that these subjects will repel the core community of secularism behind a small cult of enthusiasts who unwitting discredit their larger purpose. People hoping for some resolution to capitalist civilization will simply go elsewhere confronted with ruminations about the ‘dialectics’ of zero and plus and minus one, that symptom of the idiocy of the whole subject, which finally came to light from Engels’ notes in the Soviet Union of the thirties.
We should let these legacies have their place in the museum of the future left, noting their echo of the ancient similar subjects of Samkhya and nondual Vedanta, but the larger work needs to start from scratch. Some may persist in wishing to rescue this subject, let it stand, on the sidelines. Leftist successors to marxism need to refine sharper skills to match the gang of cutthroats armed with advanced math trying to befuddle minds befuddled by dialectics with the mathematical sophistries of marginal economics. The only way to match these fallacies is to drop metaphysical baggage and ‘travel light’ with respect to philosophic mysticisms and confront the enemy with a mind empty of endless Hegelian ruminations.
In any case, I think Zizek is trying to refresh a stale marxism. Up to a point he succeeds, but a new era of post-marxism is needed, and the sooner we can recast the whole subject in the correct competition with mathematical cutpurses and ever refined ideologists of capitalism the better.